Henry Grew Crosby

Harry G. Crosby, two years after Verdun

Harry Crosby and Edward Weeks

When my neighbors returned from their meal, I found myself in the midst of Bostonians: on my right a tall, lean guy with a charming smile, who introduced himself as Harry Crosby, and on my other side, Betty Beal, his cousin, and her mother. The latter were on their way to join Mr. Beal, who had been working in the American Embassy in London since the outbreak of war. Crosby's uniform was as misshapen as mine, and I saw he was having the same trouble keeping his puttees tightly rolled about his thin shanks. My ear caught the cultivated Boston accent and I began noticing the difference. In the family circle I perked up. When tea was served I wolfed down three cups and innumerable petits-beurre, which I thought the tastiest biscuit in the world. Thanks to the Wiggin Cure I was ready to brave the restaurant for dinner and accepted Crosby's invitation to join him for a drink.

In those forty minutes we took to each other. His skullcap of soft brown hair, crew-cut, his dark eyes and sensitive mouth were of a boy turning man; he was brimming with life and when he laughed his lips had a mischievous curl. We were of the same age. He had been at Plattsburg in the summer of 1916 and was eager to break away from St. Mark's before graduation but his mother persuaded him to stay until he had passed his entrance examinations for Harvard. Yes, he'd been in Europe before --- to the Lido, to Venice and Paris. The French he spoke to the waiter came easily, and he said he'd done quite a lot of driving in the family Studebaker, and when the old man would let him have it, in his Pa's Lancia. Listening, I felt countrified.

Edward Weeks. My Green Age. Boston: Little Brown. 1973.

* * *

Back at 21 rue Raynouard in late July and now dignified as Section Sanitaire 71, we were put under the command of Lieutenant Ronald Speers, a tall, cheerful Californian from Stanford, very competent for his twenty-three years, and a French lieutenant who would be our liaison officer with the 158th Infantry Division, to which we were shortly attached. We all drank too much the night before departure and our trip to Noyon in the Aisne was endured in the stoicism of a hangover. It was raining when we had our first workout with the Fiats in the motor park and after the Fords they seemed heavy and intractable, hard to crank. With a heavy body, solid iron wheels and double tires on the rear, they had too much weight for the horsepower and could hardly get into third speed against a head wind. I was glad to have Harry maneuver our bus into line in the muddy field that was to be our home for the next fortnight. [...]

In the soccer game Harry had been the least winded of any of us: At St. Mark's he had run cross-country, and now, elbows in, long legs pumping, he seemed inexhaustible with his "Come on, you rodents!" Days when the rain was oppressive he'd go jogging and when it was fair we would sit on the stretchers at the open end of our ambulance, writing letters home, he tearing off four to my one on his blue stationery and commenting aloud on "Ella" or "Sister" and the slackers who would be playing with them in his absence. We had been moving around too fast for much mail to catch up with us, but Harry got the bulk of what came through ... (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

Harry was nearsighted, so in heavy rain or the predawn fog when his glasses misted over I would drive. I was gaining confidence, though not without mishap. One misty night with me at the wheel we paused to pick up two French officers going back into the lines; they sat beside me with Harry perched on the left mudguard. We made our first contact with a looming, lumbering water wagon. Fortunately I had room to turn out, the collision was glancing, the horse unhurt, but Harry was dislodged with some American profanity which amused the company. Our second was more threatening: an ammunition caisson drawn by six horses came on the gallop out of the dark; I was boxed in by a stone cliff and it was up to the rider on the lead team to swerve, which he did, crumpling my mudguard and sending Harry sprawling over the hood with a stream of insults beginning, "Merde, alors, cochon! . . . !" beautiful to hear. So was the rebuttal. (Weeks. op. cit.)

Edward Weeks At the St.-Quentin Front, September 1917
(Photo by Harry Crosby)

In all this tranquillity we were occasionally shocked by the appalling wounds. Harry was in the pit of the abri one morning when a poilu our age was carried down streaming blood. His whole right cheek had been shot away, nose smashed in, no jaws or teeth left, under his eyes the torn skin a dead blue. It was a question whether he would live to reach the field hospital, but he did survive that dreadful hour on the road, and then in the reception tent, the stretcher was lowered, there was hesitation and questioning --- Had he been brought to the right place? No, he'd have to go on . . . Where were his papers? ---and Harry was furious. God damn it, he muttered, in an American hospital this man would be on the operating table in a minute! (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

At "21" we were told that our new section had just gone back into the lines at Glorieux and that the quickest way to reach them would be via our old outfit, who were still operating from their cantonment on the outskirts of Verdun. Tanned and flossy, from our permission we were dropped off by a friendly camion driver who had given us a lift out from Bar-le-Duc, and the first to greet us was Harry Crosby, in wooden sabots, heavy socks and a sheepskin coat over his layers of sweaters. When he heard where we had been he said we were lucky bastards and proceeded to tell us what we had missed. I had never known him so nervous and realized why as he led us to the remains of his car, the top and one whole side of it blown in two nights before by a shell that had wounded Spud Spaulding and by some miracle had never so much as scratched Harry. He held up the shrapnel-pierced backboard against which he might have been leaning. "Jee-sus!" said Dick.

There had been heavy shelling of the roads in the predawn, when Ben Weeden and Harry drove their ambulances up to the poste at Houdromont, where Spud Spaulding was on duty. As they reached the narrow parking space, Harry, in backing around, stalled in front of Spaulding's car with Spud, in the doorway of the abri, jeering at him, when a shell burst not ten yards away on the top of a stone ridge. Harry had instinctively dropped to the floor of his car, which, he says, "saved my young life," while éclats, rocks, mud shot past and over him. Shell fragments struck Spud in the chest knocking him back into the abri and both cars in the line of fire were demolished, but not Weeden's. After a pause while Spud was given morphine and his wound was dressed they shoved him and two other stretcher cases into Ben's car, and Ben with Harry beside him coolly started back. They were caught in another' salvo behind a truck which was stuck in the middle of the road and Spud was hit a second time by éclat which passed through the brass nameplate (of the donor) on the wall of the car.

Harry, again in one of his pious moods, had been reading the Bible the day before and had paused over the passage in Romans 10:13: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved," and he says in his journal that during the ordeal he "prayed as never before," which he believes saved him. He had been taken off duty for a week. They don't give Purple Hearts for near misses, but I wondered how long a shock like that lasts.

We got more of the story from Lieutenant Speers: before being relayed to our camp at Glorieux, on the west side of Fort Douaumont. Spaulding, he said, was recovering and would surely be decorated. The division was pleased with their work but the cars were in bad shape, all but two had been hit, though none as badly as Harry's. (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

To my relief, Harvard accepted me as an unclassified student, on probation until I demonstrated which of the upper classes I belonged in. Before departure my father and I had a frank talk about finances. (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

The only undergraduates I knew were my four friends of the war, Harry Crosby, Phil Shepley, Tote Fearing, and Stu Kaiser ... (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

From such loneliness the Hounds rescued me and helped me find my bearings. They pointed out the clubs, interspersed with the dormitories along Mt. Auburn Street, in particular the Iroquois, to which Harry thought I might be elected "as soon as people get to know you." Having obtained a quick discharge in France, he had reached Cambridge in time to earn his freshman credits in the spring and summer, so he was now a sophomore, Class of 1922, and running on the cross-country team. To get me in circulation he invited me down to his family's country place, The Apple Trees, at Manchester for a debutante ball the last weekend in September. The invitation was a kindness in many ways, for at his mother's suggestion my name went on the list for the Boston parties. It was my first glimpse of New England autumn on the coast and in the crisp air the low sun seemed to gild everything: the blue sea, the white lobster boats, the scarlet and saffron foliage through which we drove.

We were never still, pausing in the lovely house --- there were old apple trees in the meadow below it --- just long enough to greet his parents and change into white flannels, then three sets of tennis on the grass courts at Essex --- we were very even --- then back to dress and drink a martini with Steve, Harry's high-strung father, followed by more at the dinner party, and then I was dancing with the girls Harry had grown up with --- Betty Beal, his cousin, who remembered me from the Espagne; "Sister," a very beautiful blonde with brown eyes; Ella, a challenging gamine. I had snatches of them but not for long, they were too popular. . . . Prohibition had closed the bar; we drank raw liquor out of a flask. I got stuck with a young matron who had been at our dinner, and no one would cut in until Harry rescued me. "Never do that again, you rodent!" he said. (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

Cambridge that autumn was too exhilarating for self-doubt. There was wine in the air and plenty of bathtub gin available for those who defied Prohibition. The scarcity of good Scotch had not yet reached the point where drinkers were impelled to suck the bottle till it was dry. Some returnees were still in uniform: I saw a very tall figure with bony knees, in the kilt of the Black Watch, enter the portals of the Hasty Pudding Club and was told it was Robert Sherwood, who was writing the new Pudding show. The stadium was packed on Saturday afternoons. The Harvard varsity was scoring an unbeaten season that would end with the victory over Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Every Friday night there were coming-out parties at the Copley-Plaza, and the Boston Symphony on Saturday, if one could stay awake.

To my gratification I was elected to the Iroquois. The food was exceptionally good and there were some members of my age --- Bill Dexter, George Reynolds and Henry Guild --- with whom it was fun to play bridge after lunch. Harry called it "a waiting club."

"Waiting for what?" I asked.

"Why, to be looked over for a Final Club."

"I thought there was only one, the Porcellian."

"You goat," he said. "Sure the Pore is something special --- it's the oldest. But they only take in six or eight. There are other good ones. You'll learn." (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

At midyears I was notified that I had been admitted to the Class of 1922 --- Harry's class --- and eligible to participate in college activities. (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

Junior year is the happiest. I was finding my friends and my confidence and enjoying the independence which is a side effect of what passes for Harvard "indifference." I saw Harry at parties---his mother gave two splendid dinner dances at 95 Beacon Street---but he and I were never in the same courses and now that he was in the A.D. Club, I seldom saw him at lunch. Harry's drinking was causing trouble. He kept in training for the cross-country team until the night before the Yale meet, then went on a bender and the next morning, still hung over, followed the race in a roadster, cheering, "Come on, you poor bastards," at the teammates he should have been laboring with. Afterward in expiation he ran the boards and persuaded me to buy a pair of spikes and longjohns and run with him. Round and round that wooden track we'd thump in the wintry air. "How does he look, Pooch?" Harry would call as we passed Donovan, the track coach, and I'd try harder to stay with him, but by four laps my lungs felt burned out and I'd begin to sag. "Pooch" was noncommittal and after ten days I'd had enough, and enough to know that Harry would have been a good miler had he been willing to train. (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

I was seeing less of Harry Crosby, as he had taken a war degree and had withdrawn from college to work in a State Street bank, a job he loathed. "I recite The Rubáiyát as I jog across the Common to State Street," he told me, "the only bright spot in my day." He had fallen hard for the appealing Polly Peabody, who was seeking a divorce from her alcoholic husband and was then living in New York City. Harry commuted for love every weekend, to his parents' dismay, and when I chanced to draw the berth opposite him on one return trip on the Owl, he gave me a snort from his flask, loosened his tie, removed his shoes and coat, and slid into the blankets the same impulsive, unorthodox kid. Steve, his father, did everything to break up the affair, promising Harry a new car if he'd drop it; after one angry exchange Harry came out to spend a few nights on our spare cot in Hollis. (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

What brought Harry Crosby and me together again after a lapse of three years, while he was living abroad, was his surprising determination to become a writer. Harry's rebellion against Boston reached the breaking point in 1922, when his mother appealed to her brother-in-law, J. P. Morgan, to find a job for Harry in Morgan et Cie, in Paris. He was no happier as a bank clerk there than he had been in Boston, but he was at liberty, with plenty of spending money, and at Auteuil was winning or losing more on a single race than he could earn in two months. His family hoped that France would cure him of his infatuation with Polly Peabody, but that autumn he cabled her that he was coming over steerage on the Aquitania, had reserved the bridal suite for the return voyage, and would she marry him in New York in the forty-eight hours while the ship was refueling? She had obtained her divorce, and the answer was yes.

They lived for a time in three crowded rooms on the Left Bank, with Polly's two young children by her first marriage; Harry had no patience with them, called them "the brats," and wanted them out of the way. Then as the family in Boston relented and funds became more plentiful, they moved eventually to a spacious apartment of three floors at 19 rue de Lille in the Faubourg St. Germain. Harry insisted on a new name for Polly, which reminded him of the past, and he found it in "Caresse." Under that signature in 1925 he published a limited edition of Caresse Crosby's first book, Crosses of Gold, pleasant, facile love poems of minor quality. His letter and the French books he sent me showed how seriously he was studying Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud; he tried to curb his gambling and to believe in Huysmans's phrase: "that art is the only clean thing on earth except holiness." He who had so resisted discipline now struggled to discipline himself as a poet under Caresse's coaching, and with the stimulus of his elderly cousin Walter Van Rensselaer Berry.

Harry spoke repeatedly of Walter Berry during our meetings on the North Shore and the picture I got of his sixty-six-year-old mentor was of a tall, thin, elegant, with a bird-like head; a close friend of Henry James and Marcel Proust, and an intimate admirer of Edith Wharton. She frequently stayed at Berry's apartment in Paris where there was a concealed stairway connecting his library with her room on the third floor. On one such visit Mrs. Wharton came down with measles and when the fever abated her host spoke to her through the quarantine-door:

" Edith, how are you feeling?"

"Better but bored."

"Why don't you amuse yourself by writing a short story in French?"

What was begun as a dare was continued in earnest; such, Harry told me, was the origin of Ethan Frome. (This was later confirmed for me by Mrs. Winthrop Chanler.)

Like all beginning writers, Harry was in a hurry to publish, and bombarded us with his "Sonnets for Caresse" (a collection of which he had privately printed in 1926). Neither Miss Converse nor Mr. Sedgwick liked them --- nor did I. In my letters I tried to explain why they had failed of acceptance; he was perfectly cheerful about it and, undaunted, kept sending me more. His versification was not as smooth as Caresse's and one had to sort through the confection and the clichés, for any glint of originality.

We saw a good deal of each other in that summer of his return, sometimes at parties and more casually after Caresse had taken the children to visit her mother at Nantucket. Harry was lonely in his old haunts. Fritzy and I had rented a little cottage in Ipswich and from there he and I roamed Coffin's Beach or the Essex Woods, talking of writing and the future while I tried to separate the man from the legend he was beginning to create. He was reputed to be a great lover, yet his devotion to Caresse seemed unshaken and he always came back to her. His philandering did not square with my idea of fidelity but if she ignored his swordsmanship, why shouldn't we? Paris had cultivated his taste for wine and he was a steady drinker; he was still gambling --- and losing --- heavily at the races, and, of course, there was talk of drugs. These extravagances concealed from old friends how serious was his intent to be a writer and how often he struggled against his dissipations. But as I studied him to see what had changed, I felt again his physical magnetism: his clear skin, the color of old ivory, the way his eyes lit up when animated, the slight tremble of his lips when he was emotionally stirred. Always on our walks we were accompanied by his black whippet, Narcisse Noir, a lithe, beautiful creature whom our friend, the sculptress Katherine Lane, was modeling. Narcisse was a champion and we would pause to watch his grace and swiftness on the beach.

Harry was as curious about my work on the Atlantic as I was about his life in Paris. He had been promoted at the bank but finance bored him; it was in writing and reading that he found satisfaction, reading not only the poets but cruising through the Encyclopaedia Britannica, searching for new words and ideas. The Britannica had led him to Frazer's Golden Bough, the source of his religious approach to sun worship to which he shyly alluded. He was getting to know the American expatriates in Paris: Archibald MacLeish, who had thrown up a promising legal career in Boston to turn poet; Kay Boyle, the short story writer; and Eugene Jolas, the editor of the esoteric little review transition; through Jolas, he hoped to meet James Joyce, whom he revered. In all this he had the approval of Walter Berry. Berry believed in Harry (and was planning to make him his heir though this I could not know); when Berry had learned of Amy Lowell's death he immediately counseled Caresse to send Houghton Mifflin her new manuscript of verse, on the chance that they would be looking for another woman poet. They were, and her second book of verse, Graven Images, was accepted.

He and Caresse were now planning to launch a series of recherché books in expensive limited editions, and he asked my advice. There is a good market for them here, I said, the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay in a numbered edition with her signature fetched $25 --- what title would they begin with? Harry suggested the selected poems of e e cummings. Humbert Wolfe, the Englishman, is better known, I said, but I thought Sterne's Sentimental Journey a safer bet --- besides there'd be no royalties to pay. He saw the point; whatever they decided, would I act as their agent in America for a share of the proceeds? I agreed. When we parted he urged that Fritzy and I come to visit them in the spring when they hoped to be in business. But there was no prospect of our going abroad in 1927. Mr. Sedgwick did the traveling for the Atlantic and in any case Fritzy would have been unwilling to leave our baby, Sara, who was hardly a year old, even if the money had been available.

Harry resigned from the bank. He wrote that they had found in Roger Lescaret the ideal printer, who did exquisite work on a hand press, and that they had decided on Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher as the first title for their limited editions. It was to be printed on special paper with four-color plates by the Hungarian artist Alastair. How many could I dispose of and at what price? We agreed on an edition of 308 (250 for the United States), priced at $7.50. I suggested an introduction by Arthur Symons, but I calculated that after we had paid Mr. Symons and the artist, and the import duty of 15 percent of the list price, and the bookseller's discount, there would not be much left for jam. When the books arrived, I spread them around in the more select shops --- the Centaur in Philadelphia, the Brick Row in New Haven, Brentano's and Scribner's in New York --- and as reorders came in, there was little doubt that my quota would be exhausted, so I called for some of the copies in Paris. At this encouragement the firm's imprint was changed from Narcisse to the Black Sun Press, because, as Caresse said, black was Harry's favorite color and he worshipped the sun.

I was tallying up our modest profit at the year's end when in came a letter from Harry asking that I send him part of his share in twenty-dollar gold pieces. He and Caresse had been traveling in the Middle East; in Egypt he chanced on a copy of The Plumed Serpent by D. H. Lawrence and was immediately stirred into action. From their boat on the Nile he dashed off by camel a compelling letter to Lawrence telling of his own belief in the Sun God and begging Lawrence for a sun story that they might bring out in a limited edition, to be paid for in twenty-dollar gold pieces, symbolizing the eagle and the sun. Lawrence's manuscript, Sun, was waiting for them when they returned.

It was forbidden to export gold and my problem was how to get the gold pieces across. It was solved by Bill Sykes, an eager young littérateur, bound for France: he secreted the gold pieces in the lining of his shoes, and so freighted, walked into their apartment on the rue de Lille, and when he undid his laces out rolled the hoard.

Including Lawrence's Sun, The Birthday of the Infanta by Oscar Wilde, the Poems of Lord Lymington and The Letters of Henry James to Walter Berry, the Crosbys had scheduled a total of ten titles for 1.928. As this was obviously more than I could cope with, they found a New York bookseller, Harry Marks, who became their distributor. The list included new volumes of verse by each of the proprietors and Shadows of the Sun, a selection of entries from Harry's journal, a document which in its candid, nervous style was much more true of him than his verse. He offered excerpts of it to the Atlantic and I liked it for the picture it gave of the man in his medium, as witness:

JUNE 11. With C to the Rue des Beaux-Arts to see the marble tablet we have placed on the Hôtel d'Alsace in honor of Oscar Wilde.

OSCAR WILDE
Poète et dramaturge
Né à Dublin
Le 15 Octobre 1856
Est mort dans cette Maison
Le 30 novembre 1900

and we drank a toast to him in absinthe (he loved absinthe) from my silver flask and then went home to read Dorian Gray only we didn't read Dorian Gray for people came to tea.

---------------

13. This is how Baudelaire symbolizes the sonnet: "Avez-vous observé qu'un morceau du ciel aperçu par un soupirail, ou entre deux cheminées, deux rochers ou par une arcade, donnait une idée plus profonde de l'infini que le grand panorama vu du haut d'une montagne?"

---------------

17. Tea at W.V.R.B.'s [Walter Berry's] and we met Edith Wharton and everyone sat in the dining-room (where she wrote Ethan Frome, poor Ethan as she called him) --- and there was Paul Morand of Ouvert and Fermé la Nuit and he was heavy and oriental with a pale opium face and there were the young Count and Countess (not the Countess) de Noailles, and a pretty Comtesse de Ganay and a Mrs. Hyde and last but not least a delightful Abbé Meugnier who said he wished that someone would invent another sin, he was so tired of always having to listen to the same ones, and who remarked when he saw Narcisse: "Mon coeur, c'est tout un jardin d'acclimatation."

---------------

18. Preparations for the Quatz Arts and the students are building an enormous serpent in the Rue Allent, and tickets are being distributed "Femme donne ton Soleil en adoration aux Incas" and costumes are being prepared and C tries on hers and she is passionate with bare legs, bare breasts, and a wig of turquoise hair.

Many people undressing and painting for the ball. Ellen B in her garters, C in her chemise, Raymonde in a peignoir while Lord Lymington (Gérard) and Vicomte du Vignaux (Gérard) and Croucher and a Foreign Legion Man and two or three students and Mortimer and myself all naked rubbing red ochre all over ourselves. (My costume a frail red loin-cloth and a necklace of three dead pigeons.)

At eight in the Library eighty students with their girls, and supper and a tremendous punch (forty bottles of champagne, five whiskey, five gin, five cointreau). And mad yells of Venez Boire and then pandemonium and more drinking and more and more and C and Raymonde were the most beautiful and C won the prize (twenty-five bottles of champagne) for the Atelier by riding (almost nude) around the ballroom in the jaws of the serpent while myriad students roared approval. I was ossified and was rescued by Raymonde who found me sprawled against a pillar and who was afraid of the mad antics and asked me to take her home or I her and there was a red blanket and the reek of dead pigeons and then complete oblivion.

---------------

19. A hot bath to scrub the paint off, then a cold one in an effort to revive, and a reading aloud from Beardsley's Venus and Tannhauser of the Ecstasy of Adolphe and the Remarkable Manifestation Thereof (Adolphe was the Unicorn --- and what an ecstatic time he had!) and later on bacardi cocktails ("and lapped her little apéritif") and they give one a faraway (my thousand francs on Faraway) forest breath.

Luncheon at W.V.R.B.'s and the Ned Holmes are there and they have been scouring Italy for paintings for the Boston Art Museum and W.V.R.B. argued that the Museum should also buy modern paintings and I was lost with the Degas Girl and there have been times that I have lived with her in some experience of the mind, Suns within Suns.

Ever since I shifted to the Press, Mr. Sedgwick had been declining Harry's verse, courteously and at greater length than in his brief disposition of Caresse's work. But the journal he asked me to send back. I labored over the letter and I am sure this return hurt Harry more than the earlier rejections.

I next saw him in November of 1928 when he came over for the excitement of New York, which he was beginning to prefer to Paris, and that of the Yale-Harvard game at New Haven. He and Caresse stayed briefly with his parents at 95 Beacon Street. Their friends, Pete Powell, the photographer, and Gretchen, his wife, were also in this country and Harry had given them a blanket invitation to a spare room. They turned up unexpectedly at 95 with much luggage and a dog. As no spare room was available Harry announced that the Powells would sleep with Caresse and himself in their double bed --- they had done it before.

Father Steve said no to that, angry words followed; there was a taxi strike on and Mrs. Crosby was out in the family car, so Harry hailed an ice wagon that was passing and in they piled, dogs, luggage and all and took off for the Statler. In the room they did share there was a radio with headphones and Harry experimented in making love with them on. Said it was distracting.

Despite the show-off Harry had plenty of serious news when we lunched together. Walter Berry had died in October and as his heir Harry was given his library "except such items as my good friend Edith Wharton would care to choose" (she chose five hundred volumes). Harry was thinking of writing the life of Rimbaud, as Berry had suggested, and his immediate job for the Black Sun Press, which was booming, was to translate the letters of Marcel Proust to Berry. He had put money in transition, was now an associate editor, and frowned when I said its symbolism left me hanging in mid-air. I thought he seemed more taut and later, in the drinking party with his friends, we did not reach each other as we had on our walks. I was to see him only once more before his death. (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

There came a renewed invitation to visit Harry and Caresse at the Moulin, the bizarre mill they had renovated outside Paris which Stuart and Minnie Kaiser had told us about: the donkey races; the tower room where Hart Crane had written "The Bridge," and on the top of which Harry would sunbathe; the champagne and the "riots " on weekends, when writers and freeloaders would descend from the city. I should like to have had a taste of Paris Denied, but there was no way and I cabled our regrets.

Harry had sent me copies of all his books but not Mad Queen, the volume of tirades he had written on their return from Egypt, feeling probably that I would resent his allusions to the Atlantic in his revilement of Boston; it was the first time he vented his bitterness on us as well as on his hometown.

None of this was in evidence when we met in Boston the week after Thanksgiving, 1929. I took him to lunch at the St. Botolph and we sat late. He mentioned the delivery of the gold pieces and that D. H. Lawrence felt he had been overpaid; said they had been promised three fragments of James Joyce's Work in Progress, which Caresse was handling most diplomatically. But for all this activity I had the impression that his life in Paris was beginning to sour and for the first time he spoke disparagingly of the French. He told me he had been taking lessons in flying and had done his first solo. I wondered if this explained why he seemed wound so tight; I asked about his health and he said he'd been to see a doctor who had found nothing serious; he added that he and Caresse had driven around Essex looking for a secluded place should they return. He adored his mother and the idea might have been hers. I wondered if it would work. We parted affectionately, and that was the last time I saw him.

On December 10 in Stanley Mortimer's apartment in New York, in a suicide pact, Harry shot his enchantress, Josephine, and then himself. Archibald MacLeish went quickly to the scene and was present when the medical inspector finished his examination.

"I pity that poor devil," said the doctor.

"Yes?" said MacLeish.

"Yes. After shooting her he sat here for five hours before he turned the gun on himself."

At the time all I was aware of was pity. Why? Why? I thought as I went over to 95 Beacon Street to see his parents. Steve alone came down the big stairway, holding one of Harry's miniature volumes, tears on his cheeks. "See how exquisite he said. I put my arm around his shoulder.

We learned part of the explanation three years later when in an edition of forty-four copies Caresse bravely published the third volume of Harry's journals, Shadows of the Sun. The old scar from Verdun had never healed. The feeling that he should have shared the fate of the older men he so admired, Oliver Ames and David Weld, had become a death wish, which appears again and again in the journal and became apparent in 1927, when he and Caresse fetched from the Montparnasse cemetery and had planted in the Moulin courtyard their tombstone, carved with their names and the date of their departure, 1942. But it was always Caresse who would accompany him. What he could not anticipate was the effect of opium on a system already overwrought by alcohol, gambling and sex. Caresse, perhaps for stability, overpraised his poetry, but I think that the closer he came to talented writers, the more he suspected that his verses could not stand comparison. Publishing and patronizing were not enough, and if I am right, this feeling of inadequacy further weakened his resolution. His infatuation with "J." had brought her to New York in early December. There were clandestine meetings usually ending in the journal's word "Fight." The final entry on the day before his death reads, "And again my invulnerability is put to the test." But he was not invulnerable.

It remained for Caresse to tell us in her memoir, The Passionate Years, published in 1953, that on the morning before the end, in the hotel bedroom twenty-seven floors above the street, in the early dazzling sunlight, Harry said to her: "Give me your hand, Caresse, our window is open wide. Let's meet the sun death together."

But she was frightened at his earnestness and held back. (Weeks. op. cit.)

* * *

More on Harry Crosby

Harry Crosby. "Fragments from Four Sections." History of the American Field Service in France. "Friends of France". 1914-1917. Told by its Members with Illustrations. Boston and New York. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1920.

THE sky grows overcast, and rain begins to fall. The roads become a mass of oozy mud. The night is pitch black. You stand by your car at the roadside and watch the columns of worn little men plodding --- back toward the line --- horses and men silhouetted against the lurid background of the sky. Here and there a light flickers where a poilu relights his pipe. The columns of troops seem endless, but you continue to watch, held by an irresistible fascination. You can never forget the sight of a battery sweeping, at a trot, down the hill in front of you. The soldiers' faces are lit up by the glare of your lights. Stiffly astride their sweating, mud-caked horses, they are fine-looking types, their greatcoats buttoned tightly up over their chins, their helmets glistening with the rain, their equipment bouncing over their shoulders. A brief rush and clatter, then in an instant they have disappeared into the darkness.

Malcolm Cowley. "Echoes of a Suicide". Exile's Return. A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s. New York: Penguin, 1951 (1934).

Harry Crosby and his wife arrived in New York during the first week of December 1929 and Hart Crane gave a party for them in his room on Brooklyn Heights. It was a good party, too; Harry smiled a lot---you remembered his very white teeth---and had easy manners and, without talking a great deal, he charmed everyone. On the afternoon of December 10 he borrowed the keys to a friend's studio in the Hotel des Artistes. When he failed to answer the telephone or the doorbell that evening, the friend had the door broken down and found Harry's body with that of a young society woman, Mrs. Josephine Bigelow.

The double suicide was a front-page story, but the newspapers could find no reason for it and the police had no explanation to offer. Harry was young, just six months past his thirty-first birthday; he was rich, happily married and, except for a slight infection of the throat, in the best of health. All the usual motives were lacking. He had lost a little money in the stock market but did not brood about it; he had love affairs but spoke of breaking them off; he was not dissatisfied with his progress as a poet and a publisher. Nor did he suffer from any sense of inferiority: people had always liked him, all his life had moved in pleasant ways; and he lay there now beside a dead woman in a borrowed studio.

He left behind him no letter, not even a final scrawl.

This deliberate silence seemed strange to the police. They knew that suicides usually give some explanation, often in the shape of a long document addressed to wife, mother or husband, insisting that they had done the wisest thing, justifying themselves before and accusing society. Poets in particular, among whom suicide is almost an occupational disease, are likely to write final messages to the world that neglected them. They insist on this last word---and if Harry Crosby left none, he must have believed that his message was already written.

He had been keeping a diary---later published in three volumes by the Black Sun Press in Paris---and, in effect, it takes the place of a letter slipped into the frame of the mirror or left on the dressing table under a jar of cold cream. It does not explain the immediate occasion, does not tell why he chose to die on that particular afternoon after keeping a rendezvous and sharing a bottle of Scotch whisky. But the real causes of his deed can be clearly deciphered from this record of things done, books read and ideas seized upon for guidance.

Edward Bruner. "Harry Crosby's Brief Transit. A Biographical Essay". [extract from website]. 2001.

Harry Crosby has been twice cursed with exceptional biographers (Malcolm Cowley in 1934 and Geoffrey Wolff in 1976) who were interested in exposing the sensational aspects of his too-brief existence --- he died in 1929 at the age of 31 in a double suicide pact that seemed made for tabloid headlines --- but who were not particularly sympathetic to his writings. Those writings, to be sure, were not designed to be likable or even that accessible: avant-garde, experimental, surreal, emerging from a continental tradition that cultivated forms like the prose poem that were alien to Anglo-American modernism (though successfully explored by Williams). And Crosby did not become a compelling writer until the last years of his life. His apprenticeship, moreover, was particularly erratic, and worst of all, it unfolded in public, as Crosby's own press, Black Sun, released a steady stream of his work from 1927 onward.